Don't Laugh, the Stylus Is Coming Back

By Andrew James , written on June 15, 2012

From The News Desk

When the stylus recently re-emerged from the death grip of the 90s, we weren't sure who to blame – Samsung? Hipsters? I was a strong supporter of Apple's opinion that the stylus is a screen cane for inferior devices. Then in April, Amazon's own stylus reached No. 1 on the list of tablet accessories. Then Apple filed a patent for the iPen on May 24. Then just today, pen-happy Samsung patented a NFC stylus with haptic feedback and a built-in earpiece for making calls. So, what happened?

Giving up on the stylus was in large part due to its beginning, when the stylus was just a injection-molded chew toy for your dog, used to target miniscule buttons on low-res touch screens. You could have used your finger like Jobs asked, if you grew out a nail for six months and sharpened it to a point. Then came along the iPhone, and touch screens reached a level of quality that we didn't need to peck at screens with plastic pointers.

As well, apart from pocket devices at the time, other touch screens sat at near-vertical on desks, making the stylus an ugly and tiring way to interact when you could square away all your work with a keyboard and mouse.

But things have changed. The touch screen and the evolution of multi-touch has a lot to do with the resurrection of the stylus. The tablet is ripe for a better way to interact, and the on-screen keyboard has become an archaic slab wasting precious screen real estate. Consider the amount of space around the iPhone's keyboard just so your stubby fingers can pound out the letter "F". They were just a shoehorn solution to get words on a screen anyway. Not to mention your hand juices and lunch leftovers that slop across your "resolutionary" screen.

So DrawSomething and Paper may have had something to do with Amazon's stylus sales, but it also shows the creative potential of the touch screen when paired with a stylus. Even before April, 74-year-old artist David Hockney was using the Brushes app and a stylus for all his current sketches, as well as his Fresh Flowers exhibit.

As for productivity, the stylus could be much more, and not just with haptic feedback (that's just training wheels) or as a bluetooth ear piece, but NFC capabilities and even motion control. The Tangram Smart Dot just scratches the surface by pairing it with a laser pointer and iOS app. And the Motive Stylus for iPad opens the possibility of how an attractive stylus (yeah, I said that) can pair with Apple's aesthetic.

"Steve Jobs put a tombstone on the stylus," says Ben Powell, Motive Stylus's creator, but he was also know for his love of drawing on whiteboards during meetings. "I'd like to think that eventually the iPad will be the ultimate whiteboard. Drawing with your finger isn't easy or fun."

Although I love the idea of Kinect-style interactivity one day taking over, how long can you really spend waving your arms in the air? As well, Siri could someday be a strong contender. But for transposing words and content to screen, our hands understand us so much better.

Now, if only we could all remember cursive.

[Photo by MJ/TR]